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Powerful People Don't Exactly Speak Softly

Margaret Thatcher underwent vocal training when she became prime minister
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 25, 2014 11:34 AM CST

(Newser) – When we want to be perceived as powerful—think parents scolding misbehaving kids or shoppers haggling with car dealers—we tend to focus not just on our words, but the way we deliver them. Researchers at San Diego State University report in the journal Psychological Science that when people want to portray themselves as powerful or authoritative, their voices go up in pitch, become more monotone, and exhibit more variation in loudness. What's more, listeners hear and identify these differences as powerful, reports Medical News Today.

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The researchers were inspired to study vocal volume and inflection because of the oft-told story of Margaret Thatcher's vocal coaching when she became prime minister of the UK, reports the Association for Psychological Science. "It was quite well known that Thatcher had gone through extensive voice coaching to exude a more authoritative, powerful persona," one researcher says. "Amazingly, power affected our participants’ voices in almost the exact same way that Thatcher's voice changed after her vocal training," another says. (By this logic, these people are probably speaking pretty quietly.)

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